The opening the Japanese animated series "Planetes," depicting the fictional first space debris collision on a commuter transport.
The earth has so much garbage in orbit that it’s becoming an increasing concern to not only NASA but to the US Air Force, as well. To help with the problem the Air Force has awarded preliminary contracts to both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corp. ($107,000,000 US. each) for the AF’s ‘Space Fence’ program which will be used to track small (1 to 10 centimeters in size) orbiting debris that can cause considerable damage to both satellites and space craft. Lockheed’s solution is to develop a ground-based radar system that will be able to locate and identify the tiny space junk. Their design will consist of two to three radar systems that use the S-band range in the electromagnetic spectrum which will enable them to track objects or microsatellites in low-earth orbit at about the size of a basketball. These radar stations will be placed strategically around the globe which will provide ‘Fence’ coverage even in the southern hemisphere.
Ground based radar tracking system for space debris (via Lockheed Martin)
Raytheon has a similar approach to Lockheed which also uses a system of ground-based S-band radars to help in low-orbit earth detection of space garbage. However, Raytheon’s prototype system is already in the testing phase, actively tracking space debris, and was demonstrated to the Air Force back in January of 2012. Both systems so far have been successful in preliminary tracking tests and are more than capable of the task for which they were designed, but there can only be one winner. The victor will be chosen later this year with the winning system fully implemented by 2017. Lets hope a space debris solution is chosen before regular civilian commuter flights head into orbit.